A few weeks ago, I went to see Tangled in the theater with some friends. It was funny, charming, entertaining, romantic, creative, and beautiful to see. And I came out with those warm fuzzies that most Disney princess movies leave me with; Tangled seemed to be continuing the tradition of Cinderella and Beauty and the Beast. As a female, I was somewhat bothered by Rapunzel's attitude towards her "mother," despite the fact that the woman she disobeys and runs away from is not actually her mother, but rather her kidnapper. Rapunzel doesn't know this, however, so we discussed the quandrary as we walked out of the theater. Was it right, was it wrong? How will it affect viewers?
Now, I'm not the type to swoon over fake guys set up in fake storylines with fake good looks. I've never "fallen" for an actor, nor have I wished that Cinderella's prince would leave her and come bounding out of the TV screen for me, or that Darcy would come to his senses and end up with a nice, modern, American girl. However, the unfortunate result is that I'm much less critical of masculine characters. I bristle at the feminism portrayed in so many films, and I react to the sorry worldliness of so many of the females in films. I noticed and rejected some of these same attributes in Tangled. However, it didn't even occur to me to think about Flynn Rider (Rapunzel's savior and love).
Until a guy pointed it out to me. Here is a man who is an unremorseful thief, an unashamed traitor to his country, and an excellent liar. He is conceited, selfish, and lazy, but he is also good-looking and seems to have "chemistry" with Rapunzel, so I and the rest of the theater audience (read: little girls) didn't really notice. To be fair, the 100 minutes teach him a lot of life lessons, and he loses the conceit, the selfishness, and the laziness. He learns to love someone other than himself, and he learns the beauty of helping others when there is no benefit to him.
There is no apology. There is still not much remorse. The implication is that the love of a beautiful woman suddenly transformed him. And what's wrong with that? Almost every Hollywood love story worth its weight in candy hearts and rose petals has the rogue-boy-meets-innocent-girl-and-melts-into-a-good-boy-before-her-angelic-charms. But I have seen this storyline play out in real life too many times to be deceived--very rarely does it work out so well for the innocent girl. Almost always, the innocent girl is the one charmed into thinking that her love transformed this man, only to discover on her honeymoon that he is still a rogue. He has never changed, and he very likely will never change.
And then there's the guy's perspective. Tangled has been billed as a movie for girls and boys--but what are the boys supposed to think after watching the hero steal and fight and lie his way through the first sixty minutes, only to magically change in the final third of the movie? Do we really want men to think that they can spend their prime in dissipation until they finally decide to succumb to that legendary ball and chain? This is certainly not the type of man I am looking for, and Flynn Rider should be the last choice--not the first--for a princess.
Yes, I've turned 160 degrees in my opinion of this latest Disney offering (I'm not to the 180 stage yet, because my eyes are still glittering with the amazing paper lantern scene and my ears are still ringing from the soundtrack). I've never properly analyzed male characters, but now I realize that they are just as abused as all the terrible female characters I've groaned over through the years. Can we have a love story where two flawed, imperfect human beings who nevertheless possess strength and character fall in love not out of their mutual hatred for each other but because of their tandem worldviews and mutual admiration for each other's strengths? Pop some popcorn! I think I hear Little Women calling my name.
P.S. Next week we will be celebrating two years of blogging on One Bright Corner. There are so many exciting things planned, starting on Monday!
Painting by Jean-Honoré Fragonard (1732–1806)